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Learning that your child has been diagnosed with hearing loss can be overwhelming. You may be unsure about how you can communicate with your baby. Remember that you are already an expert at communicating with your child!
Everyone has made a funny face at a baby and watched for that baby to smile. Communication is not just about spoken or written words- it involves touching, smiling, hugging or kissing your baby, rocking your baby, singing, or laughing. Most babies with hearing loss have some hearing (called residual hearing) and can partially hear voices, especially when you are close to the baby.
Some suggestions and reminders for parents about early communication with your baby are listed below.
You are already building communication skills you will need to make decisions about formal communication opportunities for your baby later. Right now, you can begin developing his/her communication with touch, vision, gesture, and lots of love.
Below are additional steps that parents should consider completing as soon as possible after hearing loss has been confirmed.
Children who are diagnosed with hearing loss should be referred to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat physician, also called an ENT) for a thorough check-up. An otolaryngologist is a board-certified physician who has a specialized knowledge and skills regarding the ears, nose, and throat. He/she will evaluate your child to determine if there may be a medical reason for his/her hearing loss. After an ENT evaluation, the physician will determine if your child is "cleared" to receive amplification for treatment of his/her hearing loss (this is also called medical clearance for amplification). Most children with a hearing loss can benefit from the use of hearing aids and other assistive (helpful) technologies.
If you choose amplification for your child, return to your child’s audiologist so that your child can be fitted for ear molds and have an evaluation with hearing aids. Your child’s audiologist will determine which hearing aid is the best match to your child’s hearing loss. You can help the audiologist by observing your child’s behavior with his/her hearing aids and telling your child’s audiologist how you think your child is responding to sound.
Some families who have children with a severe to profound hearing loss in both ears may consider a Cochlear implant. A cochlear implant is a hearing device placed in the ear by surgery. People can have either one cochlear implant or two cochlear implants. If you are interested in learning more about if a cochlear implant is right for your child, talk you child’s audiologist, ENT, or early intervention provider. Your baby's doctor must approve use of this device.
Other types of hearing technology may be appropriate to use with your child. Hearing technology is available for every type and degree of hearing loss. One example of hearing technology for newborns or children is an FM system. An FM system is a two-part device—both the person talking and the person listening wear part of the FM system. The person talking wears a transmitter (of speech). The person listening wears a receiver (of speech). Speech is transmitted through an FM signal (like a radio signal). An FM system allows a child to be within “earshot” (about six inches away) from the speaker’s voice at all times. Talk with your child’s audiologist or early intervention provider if you would like more information about other hearing technologies.
Most children with hearing loss (90%) are born into families in which both parents have normal hearing. Because hearing loss affects how a child’s communication skills develop, most babies and toddlers with hearing loss will need and benefit from regular and consistent early intervention sessions.
Children diagnosed with hearing loss should be referred to First Steps for direct intervention services right away. These services will give you information about the range of available options so that you can make the best decision regarding care and treatment of your child. Babies who are enrolled in direct early intervention services, especially before age 6 months, tend to make the fastest progress.
Children with hearing loss should have a communication evaluation done by a professional who is trained and experienced in working with children with hearing loss. These professionals may be speech-language pathologists, audiologists, early childhood educators with special training in hearing loss, or early intervention deaf educators. These professionals usually have completed graduate-level studies in the field of hearing loss. This evaluation will take 3 – 4 hours and will give you information regarding your child’s abilities and levels of functioning in communication and other developmental areas.
After the communication evaluation, most children diagnosed with hearing loss should be enrolled in treatment with an early intervention specialist who is trained and experienced in working with young children with hearing loss. An early intervention specialist may be a speech-language pathologist, an audiologist, an early childhood educator with special training in hearing loss, or an early intervention deaf educator.
Children diagnosed with hearing loss should continue to see their audiologist for audiological (hearing) management. This management may include other hearing evaluations, ear mold impressions and fittings, or hearing aid adjustments.